Christian college moves to fire professor who said Muslims worship same god

theguardian: by Ryan Felton —

Larycia Hawkins, a tenured associate professor at Wheaton College, made headlines after wearing headscarf following San Bernardino shooting

Wheaton College has taken steps to fire Larycia Hawkins. Photograph: Stacey Wescott/AP

A Christian college in suburban Chicago has launched termination proceedings against a tenured professor who was suspended last month for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same god.

Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, confirmed the decision at a press conference on Wednesday. The 43-year-old professor drew national attention in December for her decision to wear a headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims, following the mass shooting in San Bernardino, which authorities said was inspired by Islamist terrorists.
“I want the focus to be taken away from Wheaton not doing right by me,” Hawkins told the Guardian last month. “That’s bad – but what’s even worse is the kind of tolerance toward the bigotry, for the Islamophobia, for the political rhetoric – and [how] we don’t check politicians.”

The college has not taken a position on Hawkins’ decision to wear a hijab, but has previously said her statements on social media about Christianity and Islam required “further theological clarification” before she could return to work. The professor was placed on administrative leave on 15 December.

Hawkins’ comments, the college said, conflicted with its statement of faith, which is a guiding set of religious beliefs at the core of Wheaton’s education that faculty members sign and must abide by.

“Wheaton recognizes that there may be a range of views among our faculty and staff regarding contemporary issues,” the college has said. “However, we take the Statement of Faith seriously; as members of this voluntary community, all faculty and staff are expected not merely to sign it as a cursory requirement of employment, but also to affirm it as an expression of their own beliefs.”

Hawkins has been asked on three previous occasions to affirm Wheaton’s statement of faith.

On Tuesday, the college said in a statement that its notice of a recommendation to begin the process of firing Hawkins doesn’t represent a termination: “Rather, it begins Wheaton College’s established process for employment actions pertaining to tenured faculty members.”

“This Notice follows the impasse reached by the parties,” the college said. “Following Dr Hawkins’ written response on December 17 to questions regarding her theological convictions, the college requested further theological discussion and clarification. However … Dr Hawkins declined to participate in further dialogue about the theological implications of her public statements and her December 17 response.”
Hawkins responded on Wednesday at a press conference inside the Chicago Temple, saying she’s a “woman on a spiritual journey”.

“I am flabbergasted at the actions taken by Wheaton College,” Hawkins, who wasn’t wearing a hijab at the press conference, said. The professor was flanked by Wheaton alumni, activists and religious clergy, including the Rev Jesse Jackson.

Students and supporters of Hawkins, who has been with the evangelical college for nine years, have rallied on social media in recent weeks under the hashtag #ReinstateDocHawk, calling for Wheaton to reinstate the professor. An online petition has gathered over 54,000 signatures.

A final decision on Hawkins’ employment may not come for weeks. During the termination proceedings, the college said a hearing will be held by a personnel committee in the next 30 days. Following the hearing, a recommendation on the professor’s tenure will be forwarded to Wheaton president Philip Ryken.

The college president then will make a recommendation to the Wheaton board of trustees, which makes the final call on Hawkins’ job.

Despite the ongoing dispute with Wheaton, Hawkins made clear that she holds no hard feelings against college officials.

“I have no hatred in my heart for Wheaton College or any administrator or human there,” she said. “Praise God.”

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